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Published on April 01, 2020

Switching Sides: Former Student Athletes Take the Field as Coaches

Molly Rathbun '12

The goal of sport extends far beyond beating opponents or breaking records. It’s more than rivalry or tradition or physical excellence. Underneath the sweat and bruises, the victories and defeats, lies the essence of sport — commitment, perseverance, integrity.

Through their trials on the court and field, many Eastern Connecticut State University Warriors have developed these traits. With their lessons learned and wisdom gained, some of these former collegiate athletes continue to compete, but in a different way. They are now coaches, guiding their players through sport and life just as they were guided at Eastern.

One former Warrior turned coach is Molly Rathbun ’12, a four-time All-American and two-time national pitcher-of-the-year on the Eastern softball team. After beginning her collegiate coaching career at Muhlenberg College, Rathbun is now the head softball coach at Trinity College in Hartford.

“My experience at Eastern as a student athlete was life changing,” she said. “Everything I am doing today is in large part because of my time at Eastern. I was pushed every day to be the best version of myself. I was taught to work hard, to never doubt, and to find strength in your unit. Being a part of a team showed me the value of support and how important it is to cherish the relationships you have with those around you.”

Matt Esposito '13

Sport as a means to develop character is a common theme among Eastern alumni coaches. Matt Esposito '13 was a four-year starter on the soccer team who played midfield and defense. He’s now the men’s soccer coach at Sage College in New York.

“It’s much more than just wins and losses,” he said. “We focus on the individual and how soccer can help them grow as a person. We focus on accountability. I like to use the sport of soccer to develop strong values and character for young people.”

Michael Devine ’15 concurs. He’s the head boys’ lacrosse coach at Cheshire High School as well as a physical education/health teacher at Stafford High School. “Wins and losses will come, but building lasting relationships and making people into better men and women is what’s really important. At the end of the day there is more to life than lacrosse. Caring about the athlete as a whole person is what truly matters.”

Devine relates his coaching philosophy to that of his Eastern coaches, when he was a four-time all-conference midfielder on the lacrosse team under former head coach Justin Axel.  “My experience at Eastern was probably the biggest influence on why I wanted to become a coach,” he said. “Coach Axel’s philosophy, preparation and dedication was unmatched and really turned my eye to the coaching profession.”

Michael Devine '15

Esposito spoke highly of his former coach, Gregory DeVito, as well. “Reflecting back, I realized how much I grew as a person because of my involvement with men's soccer. It came down to Coach DeVito and how intentional everything he did was.

“I chose to coach so that I can use soccer to have a positive impact on young athletes’ lives, just as it did on mine,” said Esposito. “I experienced the positives associated with being a part of a college team. I made lifelong friends. I hope I can provide an experience similar to the one I received.”

Rathbun coaches for a similar reason. “I really enjoy getting to teach the game I love so much to young women who remind me so much of myself. College softball was one my greatest experiences, and I take a lot of pride in helping to create that experience for so many other young student athletes on a daily basis.”

She continued, “There is something so rewarding when you witness an athlete’s growth after countless hours of work and, often, struggle. I strive to be a positive and impactful part of their story and to push them to heights they didn’t think were achievable.”

John Boisette '17

Overcoming adversity is another theme that Eastern’s alumni coaches work to impart with their players. Former track and field All-New England runner John Boisette ’17 is now the assistant track and cross country coach at Utica College in New York. “Eastern taught me to persevere, the importance of optimism and how to take constructive criticism.

“Track and field requires self-reflection; you cannot improve all around until you become aware of and invest in your weaknesses,” continued Boisette, who pushes his athletes outside of their comfort zones by requiring them to try events outside of their specialty. “This instills passion and commitment to self-improvement and reminds them that change is good.”

Rachel Berkowsky '18

Rachel Berkowsky ’18 is another track and field coach with thoughts on perseverance. A former soccer player and all-conference track runner at Eastern, she is now the assistant coach at E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield — as well as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science.

“I've always believed that it's not about the end result, but the journey getting there,” said Berkowsky. She remembers a track meet in high school in which she missed qualifying for advancement by less than four-hundredths of a second. “I was so disappointed that I missed the qualifying time by less than half a second.

“Now I realize that the disappointment I felt only made me a stronger runner. I hope that if my athletes at E.O. Smith go through a similar situation, I could help them to find the positives.”

Written by Michael Rouleau